PhD Candidate / School of Fine Art / Royal College of Art, London
What is your experience of doing research in more than one language?
I am an artist and researcher based in the School of Fine Art at the Royal College of Art in London, doing research in between English, the official language of my research, French, my mother tongue and the many languages spoken and written by the people I have been working with since October 2013.
I have focused my research on the question of what it means to belong, exploring it through the experience of living in between languages. On the one hand, belonging is the dynamic, internal, intimate, individual experience of relating to others and being part of something. On the other hand, belonging is the result of an external act of attribution, a fixed assignation of identity. Both are essentially carried in and through language.
I propose that belonging is made possible by the act of coming to speaking and the experience of being listened to. I explore this possibility through a social art practice that works with the poetic, emotive, reflexive and phatic function of the word, especially when spoken, and of the photographic image, still or moving. My research outputs, often the results of encounters and collaborations taking place in specific places, function as examples of what it means to belong.
Throughout this research project, I draw on the experience of living in between one’s mother tongue and other languages in order to demonstrate how immersing oneself in a language different from the language one grew up in radically reconfigures a subject’s identity and sense of belonging. ‘In between two languages, your element is silence’ writes Bulgarian-French psychoanalyst, literary theorist and poet Julia Kristeva . Breaking that silence and coming to speaking and writing in a new language transforms the relation between subject and language into a dynamic and emancipatory relation, reassessing what makes a language maternal and proposing a reformulation of what it means to belong.
The experience of belonging is connected to the practice of place. Over the past couple of years, I have developed my research in between three different kind of places: the fine art research seminar room, conversing with fellow researchers who live in between languages, the Masbro community centre in Hammersmith, London, working with the students and teachers of English as a Second Language (ESOL) classes, and my home, which is the place I live with my family, welcome my relatives and friends and develop my work.
What is your experience of becoming aware of the complexities in this area?
Becoming aware of the complexities of working plurilingually in a multilingual environment has allowed me to practice (un)translation and enunciation as my key research methodologies. The embodied and situated act of translation reveals the impossibility of a stable univoqual meaning of what is being said and written. The (un)translatable is, in French philosopher Barbara Cassin’s words, ‘what one keeps on (not) translating’ and something that ‘indicates that their translation, into one language or another, creates a problem. The dynamic and critical practice of the (un)translatable is part of what denaturalises the relationship one has to language, contributing to the decoupling of language and nation and to the deterritorialization of language, making possible a reformulation of belonging as a critical relation to the language(s) in which one thinks and speaks.
Translation is a form of enunciation. I have been working with individual and collective acts of enunciation, exploring different forms of enunciation, such as writing, performance, and the production of still and moving images.
Joining the Researching multilingually/at the borders of language, the body, law and the state has allowed me to situate the development of my practice in educational contexts for adults and children, in the UK and elsewhere.